Thursday, November 22, 2012

Austin


Can't sleep,
Can't listen to music,
Can't eat.



I keep waiting for Austin to text me and tell me it's not true, but as it slowly seeps into my mind (and my dreams for the few moments I manage to nod off), there's an overwhelmingly dark cloud approaching that doesn't look like it's going to go away. I can picture him in front of me, the way he moves, the way he talks, and the energy that IS him.

This is the person that gave me the strength to keep writing when I'd reached a tipping point in my first year living in NY; I had decided to stop. I vividly remember taking the overnight bus from Montreal to NY from Sunday to Monday, waiting out the 4:30am pit stop at the Albany terminus and thinking: “I can't continue on being a musician”. So I got in to the residence and looked up how to opt out of school a few weeks into the session. That Tuesday afternoon was my ensemble rehearsal, where I'd been placed with Austin and some other great and kind musicians, led by Andrew Cyrille. Andrew had asked us to bring in our compositions. I had been writing one specifically for the ensemble, as a tribute to my brother's ex-girlfriend who had passed away from a rare blood condition. I brought it in, and upon reading the sheet music Austin said “This is so dope, man! How'd you come up with these harmonies?”. We went to get some food together and talked about who we listened to, realizing we both loved Brahms tremendously. This began one of the most inspiring, life-changing friendships of my life. I decided I had a right to think I could be a musician, if only because HE thought so.

Austin and I would meet up on weeknights and grab a 6-pack of Pacifico (he would drink 4, I would drink 2), and listen to music. He had already recorded his 3rd album, which I had to beg him to show me; he had a hard time listening to his own playing, he explained. He managed to get a weekly gig on Wednesdays(?) at a Peruvian restaurant in the East Village which we played duo, playing free, sometimes with ideas he would bring in. The piano was out of tune, but Austin would remember which notes were truly unplayable and simply avoid them. We would go home and listen to more music until late. The hang was Austin, me, Dominic Mekky, and Jay Rudolph. Others who met Austin would think him very intense, I would always respond that geniuses are intense by nature, there was no way around it. I started to notice that those who claimed to know him, or had stories about him were wildly exaggerated and invented; here was the kindest, most engaging person I'd ever met. There was no banter or small talk with Austin, it was everything, oneness, truth, love, the widest scope of the human and supernatural experience, always and everywhere we went.

He'd made up his mind to move back to LA. New York wasn't the place for him, though towards the end of the school year he was beginning to admit that he was going to miss it. We would talk about his first semester at The New School, how his impression of the city and the music was false and fake, all things I attributed to the people he'd first met. Musicians would cling to him, as if his being would somehow make them better. In a way, it usually did, but it was a one-way relationship. They were seeking something other than Austin as a whole.

Before the year ended, I remember taking him to meet some of my friends at Coffee House (Coffee Shop?) on Avenue A and 14th Street. Austin was seated across from Gemma Soldati. Naturally, his first choice of conversation was the cosmos, where Gemma negated everything he said for the sake of negation (something he didn't let slide). This sparked an infatuation from both Austin and Gemma, though it took many months to come to fruition. There was a specific hang on my girlfriend's rooftop where when we left, I remember Austin looking at me and saying “What's UP with that girl, man? Why didn't I meet her earlier. What a trip!” I replied, “I know, man, this is what you'll be missing when you leave”. Walking up 1st Avenue, he then yelled “WHY DOES HE DO IT????? BECAUSE HE HAAASSSSSSS TOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

In April and May, we'd seen each other essentially every day, or at least been in contact. One exception being that he was playing with FlyLo or something, and texted me saying he'd just met Thom Yorke, mentioning how nice he was. It was Austin-esque to say hello wherever he was or whoever he was with. When it came time to leave for the summer, he vowed to come back and hang/play. It was in September or October of 2010 that he came to stay with my brother and I. I had convinced him that Gemma wanted to see him (she very much did). I'd invited them both to a friend's show. It wasn't more than 2 minutes before they left together. This sparked Gemma's moving to LA. We kept in touch frequently as he began to get very high-profile gigs (he'd already begun playing with The Cinematic Orchestra in the Winter of 2009 I think).

After leaving the New School, I called Austin and asked him to reserve 12 days in December. I wanted to plan a big band tour, with him as the feature. He accepted, turning down much better paying gigs. I then spent 3 months writing music specifically for him, which turned into “Hope”. I remember when he arrived at my apartment, and we looked at the piano music together. I've never felt anyone genuinely tell me they liked my music than in that moment. He completely understood what I had written for him, he knew how to phrase everything perfectly, knew how to emote all of the subtleties. I've yet to come across musicianship like this since. The next day he spent perfecting everything, making notes in the score. Before heading off to the first rehearsal with the band, he said “Okay, I know it now.” The following 12 days have meant more to me than any other time in my life. Having “Peraltitas” on board, the whole band had power and energy unlike ever before, every night was different. The most notable moment came when we were in studio to record the piece. It was around 1pm when we began tracking the rhythm section. We played two takes of the major solo section, and with the second one, everyone in the room knew that was the one. 


 Later as I was mixing the record and sent him a draft, he responded with this:



I still think that's an incredibly special solo, but more importantly, the piano performance as a whole is truly deep. I don't know if he meant what he said, but it was (and still is) nice to hear.  He played the moment as beautifully as it could ever have been played. I only managed to capture the second half on video, but the audio will always be there. I had expected to write more music for him, as I'm sure many others also intended. It's nearly exactly a year since he showed up on my doorstep in Brooklyn. November 29th. The last time I saw him was on December 11th 2011, I walked him down the stairs of my girlfriend's place to hail him a cab on 1st Avenue and 11th Street. I gave him a big hug and told him how much the tour had meant to me, and that I planned on doing it again. I'll never forget what he said; “Anytime, man. Anytime you write something, I'm down to come play for you, wherever.” How I wish I could have him come play my music just one more time.

I can't say this enough. The most joyous and proud moment of my life was having Austin play music I'd written for him, backed by 19 of my closest musical friends. I have all of the recordings from that tour, I don't know if I'll be able to listen to them anytime soon, but I know that when I'm ready, his spirit will fill my head, the room, the planet. It's too strong to be forgotten.

So as I sit in my room crying, waiting for another thought to cross my mind (everything else has been rendered trivial), I want to thank him for having saved my musical being. I'll miss him incredibly as a musician, but most as my friend. There are so many others like me. I could write so much more, but maybe that's for another time.


I miss having him write nonsensical prose into his phone
I miss him leaving incoherent messages to friends at random times
I miss JONDY
I miss having him embarrass me while yelling in the street
I miss having him to drink Pacifico and talking about music
I miss Austin.

-FR

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

If I wasn't myself and checked this blog frequently, I'd be disappointed


I confronted a friend about his infrequent blog posts, he shot back with “You're just as bad”. I'm just as bad.

Since the last post:

I went to Vancouver and Northern California.

Played a lot of gigs.


Spent a lot of time writing very little music. The musical/chamber opera is cooking at the tempo you'd expect from a back-burner. It's cooking nonetheless. I'm nearly finished the “Concerto for Felix” though it's now really “Episodes for Felix”. Bass trombone, flute, oboe, english horn, bassoon, 2 pianos, and electronics. We'll be recording at Concordia University in a month.

I'm in the process of sporadically recording a song with Maerin Hunting's band “Felix” (lotta Felix's in my life right now) with Brian Chan engineering/producing/mixing/etc.

COMING UP is something I'm excited about. I'm bringing Remy and Pascal Leboeuf up to Montreal to be featured in my “Large Band” on November 17th! I'm also bringing up Arthur Hnatek since I can't live without him. My brother will be joining us on bass as well, along with the Tom Csatari band to open up (Eric Read on drums, Levon Henry on tenor sax). We'll be performing at the “Resonance Cafe” on Fairmount and Parc Avenue, a brand new venue/cafe that a friend of mine Martin Heslop just opened up. Writing a new chart for the occasion, the first one since I wrote “Hope”.

My place got broken into last week. He/she/they stole my two laptops, my wallet, sunglasses, my roommates 2 cameras and a few pairs of his glasses. I think I have most of my scores and recordings backed up or at least somewhere on many friends' hard drives, which is reassuring. They didn't steal my guitars, which was nice of them. And luckily the first season of Louie was backed up in my iTunes purchases. It's not ALL bad. (I've since shrugged off the frustration and tried to be at peace with myself and them).


Notable Live Events:

NYC Ballet Company – they performed Stravinsky's “Duo Concertante”, part of Arvo Part's “Fratres”, a silent ballet, and John Adams' “Hallelujah Junction”. Christopher Wheeldon choreographed the Part piece, can't remember the others...

Flying Lotus – Beautiful projections. (I think) I like listening to electronic music at home better than live, strangely enough.

Composers/Recordings:


Timothy Andres – samples on his websites. GREAT composer. Appropriation of Mozart's 26th piano concerto is really inventive. I've thought about doing something similar using only the exact rhythms of an existing composition. My friend Arthur Hnatek is studying with him now. (Arthur is doing a two week tour with Tigran Hamasyan in November. He's growing up so fast... Two mentions in one blog post. A record.) 

Webern's “Passacaglia” Op. 1. Thanks to Dom Mekky for showing it to me.

The Ravel Piano Trio, also thanks to Dom.

Thomas Ades. I have to listen more, but I like what I've heard.

Tons of Steve Reich

Fell in love with Sondheim's “Sunday in the Park With George”. I've never heard anyone sing any character of Sondheim's better than Bernadette Peters.

Books*:

Stravinsky “An Autobiography” (1934)

Steinbeck “Cannery Row”

Re-reading Hitchens' “Hitch-22” and “Letters To A Young Contrarian” (I love the way he uses the English language, I should buy another book of his)

*Sadly very little. I guess I've been reading WAY too many newspaper articles, not enough fiction.

It's hard to write about isolated events from such a large time frame. Sorry Dillon, I can't write about your music for legal reasons.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chamber Opera/Musical - It's Public





It's been over two months since the last post. A lot has happened.

I released my recording. I went to Italy for a bit. I moved back to Montreal (sort of). I played numerous gigs with Jonathan Roy, “Felix”, Bud Rice, quite a few odd-job gigs (funk music at the entrance of the Montreal CFL football games?!), recorded with the Jason Stein Project, played a bitter/sweet gig at the Tea Lounge with the Large Band. 

FRLB at the Tea Lounge. Great turnout. Shaky performance...

I've been meeting with Carou Johnson and 2 wonderfully inspired dancers Laurie-Anne Langis and Vanessa Beaupré about contemporary dance/music performances for the spring. I've also been meeting with Felix Del Tredici about a bass trombone “concerto” we'll be working on together. The Montreal Jazz Fest came and went. I've been asked by my good friend Jun Umeki and his band to send one of my charts that they'll be performing at the Yamano big band competition in Japan.

But what I've REALLY been doing is working on this:



Along with Sami Bronowski and Dom Mekky, I've taken to calling it a chamber opera/musical. We started working on it in January and had gone through a lot of PRE-rough-draft writing to find the sound and solidify the plot/characters. We're now working on the piano reduction + vocal score. 2 males, 2 females, and 5 speakers/amplifiers throughout the stage. The instruments (which will be pre-recorded as a compositional CHOICE) will be piano, bass, cello, viola, violin, french horn, trumpet, clarinet, flute, and lots of electronics. We intend to premiere it in Montreal sometime in 2013 (I think Spring?). We're basically stealing from Stephen Sondheim, minus dialogue, writing in a contemporary singing style (not operatic or Broadway, more folk-like), and no dance/choreography. It's everything I want music theatre to be, which is almost always ruined for me by one of these elements. Now that it's public, we actually have to go through with it...

NOTABLE LISTENING/READING/THOUGHTS

LIVE

Joe Henry and Lisa Hannigan in Montreal on June 11th.
Kneebody in Montreal on July 1st.
Aaron Goldberg, Rick Rosato, and Obed Calvaire in Montreal on July 4th.

BOOKS

Re-reading Jonathan Franzen's “Freedom”
Jean Chrétien's “My Years as Prime Minister”

RECORDED

Stephen Sondheim - “Passion”
Jeremy Denk - “Ligeti/Beethoven”
Mark Guiliana - “Beat Music”
Brad Mehldau Trio - “Ode”
Sam Amidon - “I See The Sign”
John Adams - “Son of Chamber Symphony”
Norah Jones - “Little Broken Hearts”
Béla Bartók - “Piano Concerto #1”
Nico Muhly - “Seeing is Believing”


As the whole Emily White – NPR / David Lowery article went viral, I manically got back into my mental debate about copyright/recorded music and our culture. Especially after having released something I'm finally proud of (for now...) I wonder what, in the context of my music making, all of this means. I've seen some REALLY poor arguments on both sides of the debate. Robert Levine is now my go-to guy for all things concerning copyright law, understanding how we got into this mess, and how we can get out. Anyone who's spent time with me knows I've been following this for a while now.

On that note, my record is still here. Or on Itunes if you feel like giving Apple more of your money, and less to me. Or on Spotify/Bandcamp to stream if that's how you roll. I made the choice for them to be there, listen away! Thanks to all of you who have bought and listened to the album, and thank you all for the kind words!!!


-FR



Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A COMPANION TO THE RECORDING!

I'm currently sitting in my Brooklyn apartment during one of my last days as a resident of Windsor Terrace for 2012. I'm “moving back” to Montreal at the beginning of June for what I think will only be a year. The band is performing on May 12th at “The South 5th Collective” in Williamsburg to celebrate the imminent release of the recording that I've been working on since September. The finalized mixes have been sent to the mastering engineer (Nate Wood) and should be ready next week! I've been meaning to write a companion text to the music for quite some time now, and it seems fitting that it should be on this blog (albeit a little out of sync with the actual release...)

Here is a preview of part of the first movement of "Hope", un-mastered, so crank it up!!!





The idea for “Hope” began almost a year ago today as I was finishing my bachelor's degree at The New School. I had already decided to spend another year living in Brooklyn composing and playing music, and prepared my first “tour” as a leader with the big band, with many uncertainties overshadowed by confidence. I had been asked by my father to join him for part of a bike ride across Canada with the “National Bank” in order to raise funds for “Free The Children”, a Canadian non-profit founded by Craig Kielburger. I immediately agreed and began thinking of ways I could contribute to the cause. After succeeding with the first tour, I realized that with a few months' planning and writing I could pull it off on a larger scale; I would write a piece based on the experience and take it on the road with my band speaking about FTC, record the piece and release it, donating part of every sale to “The Big Dreamer's Fund” (the program started by the National Bank to match fundraising efforts by Canadian children helping other children locally, nationally, and internationally). I'm thrilled to say that all of this has now happened, my expectations having been surpassed on every level.

My portion of the bike tour was spent in British Columbia from Victoria to Vernon over 6 days in September of 2011. I began collecting ideas that could potentially be used in the piece while on the trip, ranging from literal musical translations of my surroundings (i.e. the first 2 notes of the piece are B.C.) to more broad interpretations of the experience and how I could relate it to Craig's organization. On the third day of riding there was a climb from Hope to Manning Park, an intense 95 km ride with a total elevation of 4400 feet. I felt that the physical experience of riding solely uphill for hours from a small town called “Hope” engulfed by mountains had an abstract kinship with FTC's work. I got in contact with Craig and asked him if he would record himself speaking about his personal meaning of hope and his reflections on what it means to others around him. That speech became the 2nd movement (left unedited) as well as the major theme of the entire piece.

Early in the writing process, I had enlisted my great friend Austin Peralta to come play the tour. Knowing I had the potential to write with pianistic reckless abandon, I decided to make the piece a feature for Austin, using the piano as an extension of Craig's voice. The 1st movement reflects the struggle that often comes with hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. The 3rd movement contains more literal elements of the trip, such as the mountainous melody, the saxophone clashes representing the unfortunate crash I was responsible for (sorry again Pierre...), the “majestic” melody getting destroyed by the distorted guitars representing the beauty of the landscapes/enduring the climb, etc...

This collection of music consists of 5 tracks, the first 3 being “Hope” in movements that are all connected, and the other two are “Speak Slow” and “The FB Generation”. The latter were recorded on November 19th in New York at NYU's Clive Davis Studio with Vaughn Sulit running the session. “Hope” was recorded on December 3rd in Montreal at McGill's Studio A with Matt Baltrucki running the session. The mixing was done over several months with sporadic meetings at both of the engineers' homes/schools.

“Speak Slow” is the beginning of a song cycle I'm writing for singers and big band. Dan Ellis-Ferris is my favourite male vocalist to work with, hands down.

“The FB Generation” is a piece based on short-lived social gratifications. The piece moves in short sections that change frequently and constantly return from whence they came...

Musicians:

NYU

RHYTHM SECTION: Dominic Mekky – piano, Matt Rousseau – bass, Arthur Hnatek – drums, Michael Valeanu – guitar, Douglas Marriner – secondary drum set, Eric Read – percussion

TRUMPETS: Derek Ganong, Ari Bragi Karason, Sam Neufeld, Francesco Fratini, Cody Rowlands

TROMBONES: Andy Sharkey (bs), Chris Stover, Andy Clausen, Alfredo Marques

WOODWINDS: Yacine Boulares (tn, sop), Levon Henry (tn,cl), Ilia Skibinsky (al, sop), Dillon Baiocchi (al, fl), Sami Bronowski (bari)

CONDUCTOR: Dean Buck

SINGER: Dan Ellis-Ferris


MONTREAL

RHYTHM SECTION: Austin Peralta – piano, Matt Rousseau – bass, Arthur Hnatek – drums, Michael Valeanu – guitar, Colin Fairbank – keyboards

TRUMPETS: Ari Bragi Karason, Sam Neufeld, Cody Rowlands, Simon Millerd, Carou Johnson

TROMBONES: Gabriel Gagnon, Kurtis Muller, Raymond Carruthers, Felix Del Tredici (bs)

WOODWINDS: Yacine Boulares (tn, sop), Levon Henry (tn, cl), Ilia Skibinsky (al, sop), Dillon Baiocchi (al, fl), Sayre Schultz (bari)

CONDUCTOR: Franky Rousseau

SOUND DESIGN: Dominic Mekky

“Hope” solos in order: Austin Peralta, Levon Henry, Yacine Boulares, Dillon Baiocchi, Ilia Skibinsky, Michael Valeanu

“The FB Generation” solos in order: Levon Henry, Dominic Mekky

The NYU session was recorded with full takes of the band, overdubbing after. For “Speak Slow”, vocals, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar fills were added immediately after the session. For “The FB Generation”, the flutes were overdubbed immediately after the session, while Levon Henry's tenor sax solo was recorded months later in Queens, NY.

The McGill session was recorded in sections due to limited size of the studio, as well as interest in recording with a layering process. The rhythm section tracked first. Second were the trumpets. Third were the woodwinds. Fourth were the overdubs; Michael Valeanu's guitar solo, many of Colin Fairbanks' parts, and Austin Peralta's piano interludes (the solo in the first movement was recorded live).

The highest honour and privilege of my life has been to work with the musicians involved on this project. The band is nearly 2 years old (it's birthplace was Montreal), and exists solely on generosity, friendship, co-operation, and the will to play music.

A lot of thanks are in order, as it takes a large village to tame a big band... I apologize for the long list, I'm sure I'll eventually chalk it up to youthful indiscretion. My biggest thanks go to my family for having been behind every insane musical decision I've ever come up with. Eddy, Flo, Mom, Dad.

Anyone that's ever been a part of or helped me with the band, whether it's been grabbing gear, lending a car, lending beds, lending instruments, lending time and suggestions. Shelby Cohen, Corey Armstrong, Liam Killen, Ben Deschamps, Teagan Schultz, Jarryd Torff, Giacomo Smith, Steph Cho, Issac Gesse, Fred Bourgeault, Marc-Andre Giroux, Isabelle Viau, Dom Rossi, Andy Sharkey, Andy Clausen, Nick Grinder, Derek Ganong, Matthew Hartnett, Linton Smith, Allison Phillips, Chris Stover, Blake Martin, Erik Saras, Taylor Donaldson, Geoff Cronin, Darren Denman, Freddy Gonzalez, Alfredo Marques, Sarah Safaie, Dan Ellis-Ferris, Dean Buck, glad to have you all as a part of the band! Neha, Ben, Pedro, and Anthony for letting me use your spaces (and being friends!

Joe Baugniet, Joe Melanson, Bud Rice, Rasa Daliri, Julian Gammon, Rox Loums, Emma Love, Seb Forcione, JJ Wright, Marc Beland, Rick Rosato, Mike League, Sammy Miller, Martha Kato, Sami Bronowski, Eric Read, Talia Billig, Jay Rudolph, Doug Marinner, Jeni Szelag, and Ali Levy for being friends and inspirations in and out of music.

Touring band – I look forward to making more music with you all: Yacine for the reinforcement of positivity, Levon for the apologies and overdubs, Cody for the MTL hangs, Sam for the frisbee/soccer (of course), Ilia for being our true gypsy, Dillon for the best roomie award, Felix for the Variations, Gab once again for the night bus, Sayre for the immaculate attendance record and low notes, Simon for the pitas, Kurtis for the Disney interpretations, Raymond for being the last minute champion, Ari for telling me I needed to stay in NY, Carou for being a great leader and host, Colin purely for existing (keep it up!), Francesco for always being so solid and patient, and Michael for teaching me how to play guitar!

Vaughn Sulit: For being so devoted and such a perfectionist, I'm in awe of your focus and drive. Thank you for spending so much time for this. I owe you.

Matt Baltrucki: For being my Montreal recorded music universe. For 2 years of the MMR sessions, the Studio A sessions, for the mixing sessions, for the talent, knowledge, and being just the right amount of crazy to invite me back every semester. I owe you.

Kirk Nurock, for your infinite wisdom and guidance. Ben Wendel, for telling me this project was possible. Christopher Smith for the knowledge I still use in my big band writing. Bob Hurwitz for influencing me to continue to make the music I'm making.

Austin, for crossing the country to do this. You are one of my favourite musicians ever. Arthur, for being the truest friend and mentor I've ever had. Dom for being the greatest sounding board possible. Hannah, for putting up with me, period: much love. Matt for reserving the rest of your life on my gigs.

Thank you, the listener/reader for taking time to pay attention to this project. Enjoy!

All the best,
-Franky

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

DBQ Tour #2

I'm sitting in a condo in Santa Cruz, having just finished all of the “Dillon Baiocchi Quintet” gigs. It was another great California experience, despite the WORST weather in my California history.


Alcatraz in horrible California weather


The band was/is:
Dillon Baiocchi – alto sax/compositions
Samuel Bronowski – tenor sax
Douglas Marriner – drums
Matt Rousseau – bass
Me - guitar

Here's a quick overview of what happened:

We arrived from NY to San Francisco on March 9th and drove to Santa Cruz. The weather was perfect and we beached it up. Little did we know this would be the only time in 10 days...

The following morning we rehearsed in a studio owned by a local drummer to get ready for a radio show on KSCO. Although Santa Cruz is known to be a very liberal county, they have this really right-wing radio station somehow affiliated with Rush Limbaugh. We had played there before, but with a different host. I managed to mess up at least one section to every piece, including the first chords of the entire show. Pure radio gold. In between performances either Dillon would get interviewed or the host would take a few minutes to share his opinions to the panel of women he had as “guests”. He told a joke that was completely irrelevant to his “program”, which was tasteless and insulting, leaving the band silent in response...  He asked me if I could get him great Yankee tickets with my "connections" (I have zero baseball tickets connections, just for the record) in exchange for booze. Not my kind of guy. We grabbed a quick bite and headed over to play a house party, hosted by Nikki Mokover, who we found out was a friend of some of our musician friends in NY. We were originally supposed to share the bill with “Sammy Miller and the Congregation” but Sammy had to take a later flight than planned (he had an audition for the Jazz Drumming Master's program at Juilliard). We decided to improvise groove music as opposed to playing Dillon's music for the sake of keeping the vibe of the party, which was a packed room of attentive dancing college students. I don't know what it is about east coast folk that make them more likely to ignore music at parties... The people in Santa Cruz are incredibly welcoming, generous, helpful, and caring, which are attributes I don't usually give to New Yorkers (and Montreal some of the time). Nikki's hip-hop band “Joomanji” played their set after us, which was a lot of fun (I sat in for a tune). They were followed by a great young electronic artist from LA called “Juj”.

Molly and Sami at the East Village Coffee House in Monterey
 

The next day we had another rehearsal with Dillon's band, then met with Sammy and Molly Miller who had driven up from LA to play a couple of gigs with us. We headed over to “The Crepe Place” in downtown Santa Cruz to play that night's gig. I was confronted with the noisiest amp buzz I've ever heard in my life (horrible downside to my Tele), which made the gig really uncomfortable. Dillon's band played first; not our finest performance. Sammy then went up, played a couple of tunes duo with Molly, then we joined them for the rest of their set. The following day we went to Monterey to play at “The East Village Coffee House”. Monterey is oddly known for it's jazz festival, military schools, and it's aquarium. We played our sets to a small audience, and I struck up a conversation with a local who told me that Monterey has never been so musically stagnant...

Nikki at work


The Millers returned home the day after. We met with Nikki at KZSC at the top of the UC Santa Cruz campus where he hosts a radio show called “The Next Step” every Tuesday from 2-4pm. He had told us to bring some music, and upon arriving we learned that we would be featured guests for the 2 hour show. Sami felt compelled to tell the listeners that although Vijay Ayer is one of Doug's favourite musicians, he hates his music and that it does nothing for him... This is the kind of back and forth that made up most of the dialogue between the Englishman and the Frenchman for the entire trip. I shared a rough mix of the 1st movement of “Hope”, as well as Tigran Hamasyan's “Vardavar” off of his newest release, “Ep #1” (to be checked out ASAP by everyone...)

Inside KZSC with Bronowski


During a couple of days off we listened back to the performances and attempted to adjust certain things about the music. We got to take a day trip to San Francisco to meet with our friend Sara and Doug's family friend Anita, the funniest 72 year old woman I've ever met. Anita took us around San Francisco from her perspective (she's been there for 30 years).

Doug on the Golden Gate


The next couple of days were spent at Cabrillo college for the “Santa Cruz Jazz Festival”, the major gigs of our trip. We gave two performances and two masterclasses over two days, one about “The Future of Jazz” and the other about composition. We tried to speak broadly with our musical terms, assuming that most of the high school students in attendance listened to very little jazz. Apparently we were wrong... Kids who like jazz = rare.

At Cabrillo College

I got invited to sit in with Nikki's group at “The Abbey” in downtown Santa Cruz which was a blast, a really great turnout and cool music. I played with members of “Joomanji” James Levine on drums, Kevin Cameron on bass, and Robert Finucane on rhodes. Nikki's band for the night was Tobin Chodos on keys, Kevin Cameron on bass, and Evan Williams on drums.

I'm now back in NY, about to play a few gigs and senior recitals in the coming weeks. My partner in crime Arthur Hnatek has managed to book a gig at the “Fête de la musique 2012 à Genève” in Switzerland, which is one of about 5 gigs in June that I'm trying to put together with the help of my European friends.

Music that I've listened to recently:

Darius Milhaud – La Creation Du Monde
Imogen Heap – Speak for Yourself  (I don't know why it's taken me this long to hear this...)
Tigran Hamasyan – EP #1
Adam Guettel – A Light In The Piazza (Original Cast Recording)
Stephen Sondheim – A Little Night Music (2009 Broadway Cast)
Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now (Vince Mendoza is king)


Mixes of my recordings are still being worked on, still shooting for a mid-April release!


Friday, March 09, 2012

Snarky Puppy

March 2nd 2011

Core Members of SP

I'm currently in a van, getting a ride from New York to Montreal with "Snarky Puppy". I had originally intended on taking a night bus this weekend when I realized they were heading north to do two gigs in Montreal, and then two in Toronto. By hopping on board, I'm saving 70$ and having a much better time than the normal Greyhound experience. The reason for my trip is that I'm meeting with Matt Baltrucki on the 6th to hopefully come up with the final mix of the McGill session.

I've briefly written about Snarky before, and the people who know me well certainly know that I respect them a lot. Being on this van ride has inspired me to write a little about my relationship with this amazing group of musicians.

...

I frequently get people enthusiastically asking me if I've heard of this band (sometimes its "is that you in the Snarky Puppy video?”) The funny thing is that the question has come from people I know EVERYWHERE! Friends have told me their music has made the rounds in Iceland, Portugal, France, all over the US and Canada, Australia, etc etc... I've been fortunate to have witnessed the last 2 recordings of their albums (they now have 5, plus an additional DVD.)

I first encountered their music very much in the style that continues to fuel the wunderkind Michael League's engine that is Snarky: a friend (Corey Armstrong) told me about them and word quickly got around to our friends. I had bought their most recent album (back then their second, "The World Is Getting Smaller") and listened to it for weeks. I was all the more impressionable to their sound as I was just getting into "jazz" at the time but completely uninitiated to its traditions and trying to make sense of it all. Snarky was the most exciting sound of improvised music I had ever heard, it made sense to me, I felt an immediate connection to the writing and playing. I give them credit for being a gateway to a deeper love of jazz in a confusing time and setting for someone to discover it, which I have come to realize has a lot to do with my current musical being.

After these subsequent weeks of listening, I found out they were scheduled to play in Toronto. A group of 5 of me and my peers decided to take a day trip to go see them. I still remember the first few notes of the gig, realizing my enthusiasm for the album was more than matched by their live show; these guys were the SHIT! I also distinctly remember the fact that we were the only people in the room that knew their music (as far as I could tell). We'd stumbled on their first Canadian performance without knowing it.

We met Mike (who plays bass and leads the band) and some of the other members in between sets and told them about our mini road trip, which obviously surprised them. Sput (the drummer) was on keyboards on that gig, as were 3 members that no longer regularly perform with SP.

...

Since I'm writing in real time, I can update the events of this trip... Everyone's trying to convince Bob (guitar) to shave his head and grow a fancy moustache, while giving him a hard time about being the only member without an iPhone, prompting an onslaught of iMessage trash talk.

...

Four months after that gig, we found out they were set to play in Toronto again. We planned another day trip. At the gig, Mike made some comment about accidentally driving towards Montreal for a few hours and we cheered. They were excited we had come so far to check them out AGAIN. We convinced them to come to Montreal the next time they were touring.

By the time they got to the next round of traveling, they'd released their third album (“Bring Us The Bright”). We managed to set up a clinic at our school (after a lot of convincing and pleading) and started to promote their gig with every resource we had. I remember the same feeling of the first few notes at the clinic, where everyone in the room sat up a little straighter and started to smile. The show was the next night. My group at the time (Pocket Change) opened for them. The show went over well, and began a solid enough foundation for Mike to come back for every tour thereafter.

...

Justin is now "moustache shopping on Wikipedia" for Bob.

...

I moved to New York at the same time that a lot of the SP musicians. I got to go see their gigs in the city frequently, including many smaller sideman gigs. In January of 2010, Mike sent out an invitation to the people that had helped out the band over the last few years to attend the recording of their 4th album (appropriately titled "Tell Your Friends" in Louisiana. 5 of us decided to take the 22 hour drive down south. Part of our road-trip legacy laid in the fact that it had become a friendly ritual to make each successive Snarky Puppy gathering a little more absurd.

Snapshot of me and two friends at Dockside Studios


I'd continued to see the guys sporadically in New York over the next couple of years, and have recently attended one of their sets for their latest album: “Ground Up”.


Besides being musically important for me, but Mike League has been one of the most influential people in my life, and I wouldn't be surprised if hundreds of others say the same. He is THE model for 21st century post downfall-of-the-record-industry-as-big-business-knew-it musicians. Tim Lefebvre calls him the hardest working person in show-business on the planet. I've gotten to hang with him enough to see the way he works, and it's jaw-dropping. Not only is he the core of the band, he does everything. Booking, press, drives the van, takes care of lodging, books flights, the list goes on and on. The most striking part about him is that he brings people together like no one I've ever met. He gives everyone that reaches out to him more than required attention, never forgets a name or a face, brings all of his being to every gig. I know this sounds like a giant man-crush, but it's really something spectacular, and I think it would be near impossible to find someone who says otherwise.

For instance, he's driving right now, trying to figure out a connecting flight/drive in Chicago next week, while reviewing the itinerary for the West Coast part of the tour with the rest of the band. He mentions an option for LA and the other guys are quick on their phones to get an opening band, reaching out to friends. His brain can move from this sort of planning, to responding to a menial conversation about an asteroid hitting earth in 28 years, to thinking about when he should replace a tire on the trailer that recently had a flat. This would be impressive enough on its own, but he manages to still be one of the worlds greatest electric bass players. This is daily. Sput is on the phone with Erykah Badu. The others are playing “Words with Friends” vigorously.

...

I'm on Nate Werth's (percussion) phone with some friends trying to line up people to take gear in for them when we get in, as well as sleeping arrangements for the night (my keyboardist Colin Fairbank has agreed to put half of them up.) We get to the border and Mike mentions that no matter how prepared he is for a crossing, he feels like they've done something wrong. Everything is declared (merch, gigs, gear, etc) and we spend 20 minutes in secondary inspection while the border patrol reviews the paperwork. Mike has to pay 0.00$ for the customs, they must feel that he's not selling enough merchandise for it to be worthy tax-wise.

...

At the end of the ride as we're getting close to the venue, I'm up front with Mike and the subject of self-expression and music comes up. Without hesitation he's able to define the role that music plays in his (all encompassed) life and what it means to others around him. Mark Lettieri (guitar) and Bob Lanzetti (guitar) who are in the seats behind both contribute their thoughts on others' musical raison d'êtres as well. We unload the gear and the band stays at the venue while Mike and I take the van/trailer to be parked. I ask him about running the band, what it's taken and if his childhood-military-base upbringing has anything to do with the apparent precise management he upkeeps. He doesn't think so, nor does he think he's very good at it. He mentions that it's more or less a skill-set that he's developed because he's always been a rational person, and it's also that rationality that keeps him at bay from the eccentricities that other artists that he respects seem to have. He tells me his brother is the genius, a word he doesn't throw around lightly.

We're quickly grabbing a bite before heading over to the club, the opening band must already be playing, and it's guaranteed that the rest of the band has everything under control over there. We head over and Mike isn't phased at all about what time it is (we're not late, or early, like Gandalf, precisely arriving when meant to...) The crowd is pretty decent, and they play a good set. Afterwards, Mike mentions that it's actually one of the lesser performances in recent history, he's thinking that with a proper soundcheck the next day it will make a big difference.

...

This is what it's been like for Snarky for the last 5 years, they're getting more and more recognition, and a big enough budget to head over to Europe for some gigs on this tour. This is an example of a band that has earned every step up the ladder so far, their “backing” strictly being from within the family that it has become. They're still driving everywhere, this tour they'll likely see over 5000km (I'm guessing) of North American road. They're mostly either in their late 20s or early 30s. They all get called for other gigs (Jay, a trumpet player is not on this tour because he's playing with Toby Keith.) Their collective resume is truly world class. It's difficult to figure out what this means for younger touring bands. I suppose most great new groups have a story that closely resembles this. On the bus ride, Mike was talking about the Facebook analytics of their fan page, noting the demographics of people who are checking them out. This is a band that in my opinion could appeal to all open listeners. It's always grooving, and the energy is always high on stage. So what will it take for them to get to the next proverbial step up the ladder? People are talking, this much everyone already knows, but are they being held back by something that's inherent in the music? (I don't mean this in a negative way.) I think they're doing everything right. There's definitely no lack of talent, the material is truly fresh (I mean that literally, but 90's youth vernacular works as well...); sometimes I wonder if it's the setting in which they're expected to play that prevents a further jump. Sit down concerts would feel way out of place for them. Audience members at recent shows I've seen are caught in some limbo between dancing, bouncing, and sitting rigidly telling their neighbours “how hard it's grooving”. It seems to me there's an unlikely inhibition somewhere inside the interpretation of the music that makes people want to listen to it's intricacies while moving. Weird, right? I don't think it's too farfetched to form a correlation between this and the great dance bands of the 30's and 40's. It would be nice if that switch were easily turned on... The band is doing what they do best, that definitely shouldn't change.

...


The next night is MUCH better: there's a bigger crowd, the energy is higher, the band is noticeably more at ease (due to having had a proper soundcheck), and the band managed to get a decent nights rest. This performance goes down as one of my favourite Snarky shows ever. In the days following, I get a chance to talk to friends about how they felt about the show. The responses are all over the map, positive of course, but it seems no one is hearing the band the same way. This is true of all music, and I'm becoming more and more aware of the fact. At the end of the day (putting aside the music nerd part of my brain), I continue to seek out their shows because I feel great listening to their music. I become oblivious to everything else for an hour and a half, get to move to music without forcing myself (rare occasion), and have great time. With the music nerd part of my brain turned on, it's just as fulfilling. I think that's what it comes down to, and the hinderance isn't the music, it's the perception of the audience...

...


Flash forward to March 9th 2011

As for news on my part, I've been busy writing a new piece set to be performed in Montreal in October. If trying to tour with a big band is idiotic, this next project trumps that idea ten-fold. I've also begun trying to set up a few gigs in Europe for June with friends from Portugal, Italy, England, France, and Switzerland. I spent the last month and a half meeting with Vaughn Sulit once a week to mix the tracks from the NYU sessions and I'm happy to say we've got those finalized. I just had the session with Matt Baltrucki this week and I think we're on the cusp of the final product. I feel very fortunate to be working with such talented young engineers.

Shows I've seen and music I've heard recently...

Joe Henry: Introduced to this man's amazing songwriting because his son happens to be a good friend of mine. I saw his show at the City Winery in NYC on February 1st. Mr. Henry has this uniquely refined sensibility to the art of song, which is something I hadn't heard recently. A large part of my writing and playing style comes out of what Joe Henry does so well. He's an anomaly in his field, absolutely worth checking out!

Mehldau/Guiliana: I got to see this rare duo among my favourite musicians at Smoke in Harlem on February 4th. I don't think any explanations are necessary...

Ben Wendel Group: I saw this on February 17th, the rest of the band being Tigran Hamasyan, Adam Benjamin, Gerald Clayton, Ben Street, Nate Wood, and Gilad Hekselman. Playing aside... The writing!!! Geez... New record is out, go buy it.

La Prima Donna: I saw Rufus Wainwright's opera at BAM on February 23rd, and I have to admit I didn't love it...

Bjork: Saw her show at the Roseland Ballroom on February 28th. One of the most gorgeous shows I've seen in my life, I've raved about the album but the live performance of it made it all the more inventive. February was “Bjork intensive”. I met her current drummer/percussionist Manu Delago through Arthur Hnatek early in the month at one of his gigs at Rockwood Music Hall, and was able to attend the show's after-hang due to their good grace. I got to meet Nico Muhly (one of my favourite composers) which was nice, and during our conversation an excited Bjork came over to make comments about the bartender doing “magic tricks”. It's a long story...

Taken from Bjork's website...


Went into studio really last minute one night to record a not-for-Valentine's-day song by Talia Billig for Ben Van Gelder which turned out to be a lot of fun. Here's the video.

Played a fun gig with Mika Hary at Cafe Vivaldi with amazing musicians: Shai Maestro on piano, Ari Bragi Karason on trumpet, Ziv Ravitz on drums, Sam Minaie on bass, and Mika on vocals and compositions. The other usual guitarists are Nir Felder, Gilad Hekselman, and Michael Valeanu... Lots to live up to there!

I'm currently in Santa Cruz beginning a 10 day tour with the Dillon Baiocchi Quintet, with Samuel Bronowski on tenor, my brother Matt on bass, Douglas Marriner on drums, and Dillon on alto and compositions. Staying at this cool little apartment close to the beach in Capitola, life is good!



Recordings should be ready in a months time (hopefully!)

-FR

Sunday, January 15, 2012

December 2011 TOUR! (Post-Modern Canadian Music)

Photo: Evan Shay

For the sake of consistency, I should once AGAIN apologize for lack of posts. Here's the required index for such a long article:

  1. Writing and organizing “Hope”
  2. The Tour
  3. Recordings
  4. Listening/Reading/Shows


1. WRITING/ORGANIZING

At the end of the last blog entry, I claimed that I had “finished writing” the first movement of “Hope”. I should point out that this past version of me had NO idea what he was talking about... Firstly, I didn't know whether or not it would be a multi-movement piece. Secondly, I hadn't notated it yet (a big factor in it's performance). Thirdly, I didn't realize that there would be pre-recorded material dictating the flow of the piece. Fourthly, I added material to this movement a few weeks later. I'll try not to make these claims in the future until I have absolute proof or certainty.

I began feeling anxious about my plans around the time of the last blog post, since I'd more or less collected the band but didn't actually have any gigs confirmed. My grandiose plan was to write the piece and hit up Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Brooklyn, and record the piece at McGill University. Before any emails were sent, I felt it was necessary to finally have a proper website. After a failed venture recruiting someone to do it, I made it myself... Then I started contacting venues in all of the cities, trying to find places where we would fit and didn't charge the band to play. I made clockwork of a half-booking/half-writing schedule, including Mondays assisting with the wonderful Kirk Nurock in exchange for his input on the snippets of music that I would bring in every week. While I have your attention early on in the article (completely false assumption...) I would like to state: This would not have been elegantly executed had I been working a day job, and most likely improbable.

Somewhat recently on Alex Ross' blog there was a short interview with Esa-Pekka Salonen. Regarding composing, Salonen says: “The main problem of my scheduling is that any time in the diary which is not strictly conducting is called composing time. This is an illusion as the so-called "life" happens within the other 50%: family time, recovery, reading, general charging of batteries, taking cat to the vet.” Truth. Although I'm sure his schedule makes mine look like a perma-vacation, the point is still well taken. Everyone (myself regrettably included) loves to tout the insanity of their schedules. Let's all agree to assume everyone is eternally too busy due to the so-called “life”, as it makes for really poor
conversation.

I balanced rehearsals/gigs, mixing the documentary music I had made with Dominic Mekky, prepping and recording on Talia Billig's debut album, singing with the St. Cecilia choir every week, along with so-called “life” and everything in between. I was extremely fortunate to be able to enlist my great friend Austin Peralta for the tour, since the new piece was to be a piano feature (written for him regardless). This was the first positive step towards making my plan more concrete. The music was coming along, I was toying with the idea of writing a “piano concerto” for big band, but the idea started fading slowly as I came to terms with “performance balance” vs “Sibelius-playback balance”. It made more sense to think of it as a “featured instrument”. The booking was slow, and reserving all of the musicians for that length of time was tough due to conflicting school dates (for members of the band, this is my first year out of school and it feels the same).

Having semi-completed the first movement, I set to work on the 3rd, bypassing the 2nd knowing that it would be simpler, plus I had come up with the idea of asking Craig Kielburger (the founder of Free The Children) to send me an audio recording of himself talking freely about hope (what it means to him and others) to be used in the composition process. I received a positive response soon after sending my email. I quickly asked Dominic Mekky if he'd be willing to manipulate and organize the audio portions of the piece and thankfully, he agreed. Thus began many conversations and exchanges of ideas via Skype. I have to admit that it felt great to be giving this work to someone much more adept at this than me, as well as having another set of ears to guide the music. It was around this time that I had finally confirmed all of the musicians, but the booking of shows was looking bleaker than I'd hoped. I had set up the NY gig first, but official confirmation wasn't coming in. Brooklyn seemed good to go, but the details weren't yet set. Montreal was tentative, I had to come in to sign a contract and pay a deposit (this would by far be the most “official” gig on the tour). The ideal venue in Toronto wasn't going to work out, although I managed to book another venue. Ottawa was only arranged when I happened to be on a gig and met a great sax player named Richard Page and mentioned I wanted to pass through Ottawa (thereby stumbling upon that gig).

It seems to me (I would love to be corrected wrong here) that Philadelphia really only has one “jazz club”, and all other music venues are either bars that host rock/folk music or larger venues. What's up in Philly? I'd love to find out... Suffice it to say that even with the help of some musician friends, I wasn't able to set it up. Maybe next time. The most surprising booking venture was easily Boston. Despite being a natural born “enemy” of the Boston Bruins (living in NY by association further alienates me from being welcome there on baseball terms), I had heard good things about the city from friends. I've never been, and figured booking a show there with the band would be a great way to visit, plus the Berklee crowd would be welcoming of the kind of music we make. I may be out of line here, but I don't mind: one would assume that with a 4000+ student music school, the area surrounding would be bustling with music venues, where business would thrive with eager ears and open minds... WRONG! Suggestions given to me by fellow musicians were usually given with a warning or a “you could try...” Where are these students gigging? Berklee's in-house venues either didn't respond or negated “outsider” performances. Not impressed Boston, not impressed at all... Let the record show, however, that I may still be bitter about last year's Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, the third movement was taking shape despite being highly fragmented and having no end in sight . The band had it's first rehearsal on November 13th, looking at the 1st movement and running the two charts we were set to record at NYU the following weekend. It was around this time that the schedule was finalized, and the McGill recording date confirmed. The following week was spent finishing the 3rd movement (or at least making it coherent) and notating it. I had been writing the piece completely in MIDI on Logic, forcing me to input everything into Sibelius post-composing, which always takes more time than I would like. The band recorded at NYU on the following Saturday, and rehearsed on the Sunday (the 20th), this time only the 3rd movement. I spent Thanksgiving week working on the 2nd movement with Dom, having spent hours writing and notating many ideas only to decide that the music called for something different (of course...) As a side note: I wrote over twice as much material for this piece than is included in the final product, definitely not including all the terrible ideas along the way... We had a semi-rehearsal at my friend Neha's loft on the 27th, and the final rehearsal on the 30th with the complete band. The piece was 100% complete on the 29th (2 days before the premiere)... There was one last minute change to the line-up due to school conflicts in the trumpet section. The band was to be:
Austin Peralta (Los Angeles, USA) – piano
Colin Fairbank (Montreal, Canada) – keyboard
Matt Rousseau (Montreal, Canada) – bass
Arthur Hnatek (Geneva, Switzerland) – drums
Michael Valeanu (Paris, France) – guitar

Tenors:
Yacine Boulares (Paris, France)
Levon Henry (Passadena, USA)

Altos:
Ilia Skibinsky (Tel Aviv, Israel)
Dillon Baiocchi (Santa Cruz, USA)

Bari:
Sayre Schultz (Swift Current, Canada)

Trumpets:
Ari Bragi Karason (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Cody Rowlands (Phoenix, USA)
Simon Millerd (Salt Spring Island, Canada)
Sam Neufeld (Milwaukee, USA)
Francesco Frattini (Rome, Italy) (NY gigs only)
Carou Johnson (Montreal, Canada) (Canada gigs only)

Trombones:
Kurtis Muller (Dallas, USA)
Gabriel Gagnon (Montreal, Canada)
Felix Del Tredici (Montreal, Canada) (bass trombone)
Raymond Carruthers (Windsor, Canada) (Canada gigs only)
Andy Sharkey (Fairmont IND, USA) (NY gigs only)

Others:
Douglas Marriner (London, England) (NY gigs only) - 2nd drumset
Dominic Mekky (York PENN, USA) (NY gigs only) - Audio/Electronic Manipulation
Dean Buck (Cleveland, USA) (NY gigs only) - Conductor
Eric Read (Chatham NJ, USA) (NY gigs only) - AUX percussion

Two and a half months of work for 10 days of payoff...


2. THE TOUR


The beginning of my “tour” mentality started on November 29th with Austin's arrival to NY. On the 30th we altered some of the piano notation for his parts, met up with the Montreal crew (Felix, Colin, Sayre, Simon, Gab) and prepared everything for the final rehearsal. That night we all crammed into a small room at the New School, not having access to any of the larger rooms, and ran the piece 3 times. I felt confident that we were ready, despite some minor issues (i.e. not having rehearsed the older material).

Dan singing "Speak Slow" at "The Salt Space"

On the night of December 1st, we pulled up to “The Salt Space” on Broadway and 27th in Manhattan for the first show, greeted by my friend Anthony Taddeo. This is without a doubt the worst soundcheck I've ever had in my life. I ended up forgetting half of the music stands in Brooklyn (Dean and Simon rushed to a store to buy some), many of the musicians showed up late (partially my fault), and we were having trouble getting any piano to come through the PA. The audience had begun trickling in while we were still setting up... Nevertheless, the turnout was great, a lot of familiar faces and many new ones. I gave a quick speech about the piece, and snuck to the soundboard where Dom was set up. This was a first for me in that I was neither conducting nor playing; I was a spectator to my own creation (Dean Buck was conducting). This is a strange feeling, time goes by both very quickly and painfully slow all at once. Every inflection of every note is considered in real time without control to change anything. The piece went by fairly smoothly except for certain timing between sections. I joined the band onstage with my guitar along with Doug Marriner on the second drumset, and Dan Ellis-Ferris on vocals. After “Speak Slow”, we played some of the older material which now sounded a little reserved due to lack of rehearsals, but surprisingly well balanced. After the gig we packed up and mingled with the crowd; I had the feeling that we had participated in a communal gathering rather than a concert, which always feels great. I got to my car only to realize I'd gotten a parking ticket for placing the paper upside down... I drove the gear home and went to bed, preparing for an early departure. 

Sleep Deprived Bro-Out to Ottawa. Ari Snores.

We left New York as a 3 car convoy on the 2nd. We were headed for Ottawa, which was to be a 7 hour drive, minus the border wait. The beauty of these tours lies in the en-route conversation. There's always the inevitable bro-out, but things eventually turn to music and I'll go as far as to say that I learn more about composition, improvisation, and performance in these sessions than anywhere else. It was clear that no one had really slept very much, and driving all day didn't help. We got to the border around nightfall (if anyone would like to hear our border story, feel free to contact me...) We got to “The Avant Garde Bar” with just enough time to unload the gear, meet up with Raymond (Gab had to take the bus from NY to Montreal and pick up a car along with Raymond, then drive to Ottawa) and eat for 45 minutes before the “Richard Page Nonet” was to begin.

  
Ottawa Welcome

Squeezing on stage (Brett Delmage - Photo)


 It was great to hear them play, I'd never heard any of the local Ottawa musicians other than Richard before. Richard has this great fire-in-the-belly tenor sound; another standout was Ed Lister on trumpet. After their set, we began the seemingly impossible task of fitting 19 musicians on the stage. Our set began with a sizeable amount of people in the venue (including 2 people who had taken part in the “National Bike Ride For Youth”!) We began with “Hope” once again, and the audience became very focused and energetic. It felt great to be in a new city and feel such amazing enthusiasm. People were coming in off the street, fuelling the energy that the band was gaining. I suppose having sat in a car all day and driving North towards the cold doesn't sound too promising, and they needed to let out some steam. This is what the entire Ottawa gig was like, tons of energy both from the band and audience, and a lot of chances were taken musically, including a 2&4 backbeat-clap started by Ari over Kurtis' solo on the “FB Generation” (by far the best trombone solo in this bands history). I still have yet to get the recording of this show, I'm looking forward to hearing it...


Richard + Crowd during our set (Brett Delmage - Photo)

 After the gig we had time for a quick beer, I was asked to do a brief interview for “Ottawa Jazz Scene” with a charming Alayne McGregor, which can be found here. I had several people come up to me saying they'd never seen anything like that in Ottawa: mission accomplished I guess... A man named John Sobol emailed a few days after the show alerting me to a blog post he had written about the show, which I found to be tremendously eloquent and with a refreshing take on music in general. He's coined the band as “Post-Modern Canadian Music” (by way of the Nick Payton jazz-world hoopla), which is as close as anyone is gonna get to describing the music. Thanks John. This can be found here.  Highly recommended! We packed up the car and drove 2 hours to Montreal.

I woke up early the following morning for the McGill recording. This went until midnight. The next two days were free, so I used it as an opportunity to show the band members Montreal as I know it, including a full band + friends party, on the 3rd, and an “Occupy Jazz” jam session at “Upstairs Jazz Club” on the 4th.

Michael and Levon serving 25 people pasta
Ari and Austin occupying jazz

We left Montreal for Toronto 's “Trane Studio” at around 10am the next day. The drive is about 6 hours long, which we split into two parts and unsurprisingly took us much longer... During our lunch break, Yacine was taking something out of the back of my car and the bari case fell onto his tenor case, resulting in a broken horn...  We had the luxury of traveling in a car with a DVD player, and decided to buy "Cliffhanger" with Sylvester Stallone to watch for the rest of the way. Terrible idea. Arthur and Ari explain:



The Trane Studio
Just like the Ottawa gig, we arrived with enough time to unload the gear, and grab a bite to eat before the first set.  I called my friend Seb who attends Humber College, and he managed to find a horn for Yacine. We were expected to play 2 one hour sets. The first set went by great; I think this was the best set (musically speaking) of the whole tour. There were great crowds for both sets, including many of my friends who are now living in Toronto. After the gig, we began to pack up for the drive home (overnight...) and I had a dispute with the owner over money. It's a long story that I'd rather not go through, but I can say that I will not be returning to the Trane Studio.

After soundcheck at the Segal Centre (minus Colin, Felix, and Gab)

We got in to Montreal around 6:30 am. We slept, ate, and got ready to head to the soundcheck at the “Segal Centre”. This was to be the big concert of the tour. Having played at a “gathering”, a bar, and a jazz club, the band was a little thrown off by this night's setting. There was a unanimous feeling that something wasn't quite right in Montreal: one explanation was that we'd driven 14 hours in a day and slept very little, the other explanation was that we were used to being a little closer to the audience and having a looser feeling in the room where people were free to hoot and holler if they felt so inclined... I think it was a mixture of both. 

Sayre and the saxes

 Regardless, the show was amazingly attended, thanks in large part to everyone that had helped promote the show (Ali Levy being the hero in this department).  Many of the pictures on this post are by Evan Shay, an INCREDIBLE photographer, it's absolutely worth it to take some time and check out his website to see his work (there are more from the Montreal show there as well)!  Part of the show was also filmed by Claude Thibault who runs "Sorties Jazz Nights Montreal", and this can be found here. (Austin, Matt, and Arthur sound AMAZING on that solo!)

After the show I invited everyone to “Diese Onze” where Michael was to play a gig with Marc Beland on drums and Rick Rosato on bass. I had to bring many of the band members to the bus station so they could take the overnight bus to make early classes the next day.

Sam heading the band!

Austin in Montreal

 I left Montreal the next morning with Yacine, Austin, Ilia, and Dillon. The rest of the band had taken the bus overnight, or was staying in Montreal. We got to NY in the evening. The next day, I woke up and went to Carnegie Hall for a soundcheck and rehearsal for that evening's performance of Handel's “Messiah” with the St. Cecelia choir! I'm proud to say I had my Carnegie Hall debut at 22...

Carnegie Hall from the Stage
 The final gig was at Neha's loft in Brooklyn, also known as the “South 5th Collective”. We were splitting the bill with another good friend Ben Murphy's Large Ensemble, a nonet with a string quartet! This was set to be the big party/celebration. Sarah Safaie on bari, Blake Martin on lead trumpet, Andy Sharkey and Nick Grinder on trombones, and the lovely Martha Kato on the keyboard, filling in the spots that the Montreal crew had occupied. I worked the door for Ben's set, which was the amalgamation of an eclectic mix of all of the music that influences Ben. I've spent a lot of time talking to him about music, and we're both coming from similar places. He had been thinking of getting this band together for quite some time, and I was thrilled to have been a part of his first performance. We set up quickly after Ben's set and began to play in an environment that we've played more than any other: rowdy crowd full of beer. 

Neha's Loft

Dillon ripping it...

In a way, I still really love these performances because they feel more “real” as far as “big bands” are concerned. The setting is CRUCIAL to the presentation of the music, and I've struggled to find the balance between creating an environment where the listener becomes a part of something larger the music itself AND full fledged attention. It seems to me that if you give license to your audience to be free, you're shooting yourself in the foot a little, but I find it necessary in an event like this. The set went well, we played much louder than usual given the circumstances, the audience kept getting bigger, and the band loosened up (much deserved). After our set, we took apart our gear to make way for a band named “Population Control”. The semi-official head-count for the evening was 250! Not bad for an underground “jazz” band...

This marked the end of the tour, after which I was thoroughly exhausted, but proud and thankful.  

There are so many people to thank... Hannah + Olivia, Rick + Vio, Carou +Felix, Mom + Dad, Grandma + Grandpa, Seb + Jack + John, Zoe, The Fairbanks, Raymond, Dillon, Colin, Cody, Gab, Sayre, Felix, Simon: All for either lodging, agreeing to sleep somewhere last minute, taking a bus, giving rides,  lending their car, giving their time, finding instruments, the list of people and tasks goes on. The band's been thanked already, but it doesn't hurt to say it again. A WHOLE NEW WORLD! Kirk for the mentor-ship. Everyone who came out to the shows!!!

Things I found out/will not forget (this probably only applies to the touring band): Sam likes puzzles... Yacine can bro-out (he just needs a little push).  Ilia's record-breaking run up Mount Royal. Kurtis' knowledge of every inflection to every vocal line in every cheesy pop tune from the 90's. Gab's ability to take double the traveling most regular humans can handle (sorry...) Cody's love of Montreal will ultimately lead him to move here. Michael's pasta.  Raymond's fanbase in Toronto (haha!) Felix's range keeps getting bigger (and his schedule keeps getting tighter, uh oh...) Simon can handle a trip to NY without rupturing an organ. Ari can play lead! Levon is probably the biggest asset to a touring band just by asking if he can help, ALWAYS (plus he has a gorilla-like ability to tear through solos, despite the appearance of being more like a mouse).  Dillon is a ladies man, it turns out. Colin is Dillon, it turns out.  Carou is better at organizing than I am, hands down.  Arthur can make any kit sound good, including ones with missing parts and thought-to-be-impossible 30" bass drums.  Austin is Jondy.  Matt probably never needs to have a music stand (he's got techniques). I will never forget Swift Current because of Sayre.

3. RECORDINGS

Clive Davis!

NYU

I've been extremely fortunate in the last 2 years to know amazing people and engineers willing to give their time to my music for next to nothing. The newest addition to my talented arsenal is Vaughn Sulit. I had known Vaughn through my good friend Eric Read. He approached me in September about doing a 6 hour session at some point during the semester, to which I instantly agreed. I met Vaughn on the morning of November 19th at the NYU Clive Davis studio on Mercer and Bleecker. He had a team of people setting up the studio for that day's band: 5 saxes, 4 trombones, 5 trumpets, guitar, bass, piano, 2 drummers and auxiliary percussion! Eric Read was on aux perc, Douglas Marriner on the 2nd drum set, as well as Andy Clausen and Chris Stover filling in for the missing trombones.

Vaughn


Michael...
 I had to pick up a baritone sax from Sarah Safaie's place to bring to the studio for my trusty-everyman-sub Sami Bronowski. I walked from Alphabet City to the studio with a baritone on my back, and charts in my hands. Awkwardest instrument ever, kudos to anyone that devotes their life to it... We started tracking at 2:30 (miraculously), our scheduled starting time.  I stayed in the booth with Vaughn while Dean conducted. We tracked “Speak Slow” first, without the vocals (this is a song I wrote to be sung by Dan Ellis-Ferris) and then ran 3 takes of “The Facebook Generation”. After a 10 minute pizza break, we started in on the overdubs; Dillon Baiocchi on flutes, Dan on the vocals (5 straight takes is all it took!), and Michael for one acoustic guitar take, and one electric guitar take (one-take all-star award goes to him, hands down). We cleaned out the studio with not a minute to spare (being semi-reprimanded from the administration for cutting it too close).

Checking Levels



McGILL

I woke up after very little sleep (having just come from the Ottawa show) on Saturday December 2nd to meet Matt Baltrucki at McGill's Studio A. I'd worked with Matt twice before on McGill MMR sessions. He knows how I work, I know how he works. Good pair. The plan was to record all of “Hope”, which was to be released as an EP of sorts in order to raise funds for “Free The Children”.

Rhythm Section Soundcheck

 Since we only had access to the smaller studio, it had been decided that we would split up all of the sections throughout the day. We started with the rhythm section. Great energy, great sound, great solos, things were looking good. At 4 o'clock the trumpets came in. Normally I would have had the trombones track second, but there was a conflict in schedules and the trumpets were the only ones that fit the time slot. BIG MISTAKE! We ended up having to go past our allotted time, laying on takes upon takes, for the sole reason of having to record without the rest of the brass or woodwinds. This took us to about 7 o'clock, when the saxes were ready to track. 

Trumpet Soundcheck

 Things went by relatively smoothly, the guys in the section dictating what they wanted to redo more often than me (I was getting a little tired at this point). At 8:45 the trombones came in to soundcheck. They tracked for 45 minutes, rarely making mistakes, with great intonation. Say what you will about trombonists, they can lay it down... At 10 o'clock we began recording overdubs: Austin for certain piano passages, Michael for certain guitar passages, a very difficult clarinet/soprano line for Levon and Yacine (only to be omitted in mixing), many keyboard parts and sounds for Colin, and the solo piano improvisations for Austin. We tore the studio down just in time to hand it over to the next engineer (once again).
Arthur at his station

TALIA BILLIG'S “THE RIPPLE EFFECT”

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Had I been smart, I would have written a whole post about this... I spent about 5 days throughout November at the semi-constructed (now completed) Bunker Studios in Williamsburg. We worked with good friend of the band Jacob Bergson as the producer, recording engineer, and mixing engineer. The first day was spent tracking the full band takes with legends Arthur Hnatek on drums and Dan Parra on bass. Subsequent days were spent on overdubs (I did all the guitar work, most of the male backup vocals, plus some fine glockenspiel and clapping work), and we had many other guests come in.

Raging Glock-work

Tal had asked me to arrange an “interlude” she had written for the record, which is a beautiful intimate folksy vamp with a haunting melody that ends with an excerpt of a lullaby from her childhood. I originally orchestrated it for trumpets, trombones, tenor sax, and bass clarinet, but as we were constructing the layers, the brass instruments alone were creating the best texture. We ended up using 5 trumpets and 3 flugelhorns (all played by Ari Bragi Karason), and 5 trombones (all played by Chris Stover). The resulting effect is a warm-bath-like swell that I'm fond of using. If only I constantly had 13 brass instruments at my disposal... Ari played on some other tracks, Kyle Wilson played tenor and Nick Jozwiak played cello on “Goodbye” (Nick is on “Travel On” as well), Ben Van Gelder played bass clarinet on “Egress”, and back up vocals by Sarah Charles and Alena Spangler. More to follow when it gets released!


4. LISTENING/READING/SHOWS

After the tour I vowed to listen to music, read some books, and plan more future adventures for this group. I've since read:

Christopher Hitchens' memoir “Hitch-22”
Jonathan Franzen's “Strong Motion”
Naomi Klein's “No Logo” (currently reading “The Shock Doctrine” also by her)
“The Best Music Writing of 2011” edited by Alex Ross

So many albums have made a mark on me in the last few months, I can only share the most recent ones:

Bjork – Biophilia (my favourite record of 2011)
Bjork – Vespertine 
Arvo Part – Te Deum (Berliner Mass)
Prokofiev – Symphony #2 (Jascha Heifitz, don't know which orchestra it is...)
Daedelus – Denies The Day's Demise
Mozart – Concerto for Oboe
Nico Muhly – A Good Understanding (still freaking out about this one...)
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
Ben Wendel – Simple Song

I saw many great shows from September to December. The highlights were:

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society – “Brooklyn Babylon” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This show blew my mind! I've always liked and admired Darcy's music (I was supposed to study with him at New School but his type of visa didn't work through the school). If they end up doing it again anywhere, I HIGHLY recommend it.

The stage at BAM

Nico Muhly - “Dark Sisters” with the Gotham Opera Company. Even though Nico is already being hailed as THE new young composer, I still think his work will continue to be recognized as one of the strongest voices in American music for my generation for the rest of his career. I'm willing to put all the marbles on that...

I've met with both Vaughn and Matt briefly for the mixes of the two sessions. I'll be working on the recordings in the next little while. Congrats if you've made it this far in the article!